1 Chiltern Street, Marylebone, W1U 7PA
WLC Rank : 46
Glass from : £ 11 (175 ml)
BEST FORUplifting dining room with ever-changing lighting settings
Rested Bordeaux, the USA, and lesser-known territories
Gender equality in the workplace
A rich, explorative list with plenty of unique listings devised by Chiltern Firehouse's longest-serving employee, Romain Audrerie and head sommelier, Beatrice Bessi.
Piacenza-born powerhouse, Beatrice Bessi, a popular figure in the industry, began working in hospitality at age 14, later to support her studies in computer science and engineering. However, despite her fervour for it, late-night bartending had to come to an end when her daughter, Michelle was born, with Bessi enrolling in the culinary academy named after Gualtiero Marchesi, the oft-quoted “founder of modern Italian cuisine.” Placements ensued at the likes of legendary restaurant, Le Calandre, Padua, “where I fell in love with working with wine which gave me the power to be in charge of a situation.” On hearing of the opening of 67 Pall Mall in London, Bessi sought out co-founder, Ronan Sayburn and decided to work towards her advanced Master Sommelier certificate.
Although crying upon leaving 67 last October, Bessi seized the opportunity to be the head sommelier of London’s classy Chiltern Firehouse, alongside suave Global Wine Director for André Balazs Properties, Romain Audrerie, whose own interest in wine was sparked when studying political science in Bordeaux, during which time he worked on catering jobs including the leaving do for the outgoing winemaker of Haut-Brion.
Bessi describes her role at the Firehouse, where up to 250 covers dine per night under a lattice ceiling of firehose, as “more than knowledge and service – it’s making sure the lists, including the four by-the-glass lists, are correct and covering the right areas, as well as pushing the sommelier, bar and waiting teams towards education and therefore empowerment,” including a trip to English sparkling wine partner, Nyetimber.
Having come from a wine club where she could “taste everything from around the world,” Bessi is gradually expanding the selection from Uruguay, Armenia and Georgia, and Savoie, Jura and Switzerland each time the list is reprinted, every 15 days to keep things fresh. Indeed, Romain and Bessi launched a winter fondue in the courtyard paired with Alpine wines. “The idea is to have very appealing alternatives to classic Burgundy and Bordeaux.” That is not to say those regions are ignored. In fact, Chiltern Firehouse maintains a direct relationship with Château Pétrus where vintages such as 2006, 1981 and 1979, “are recorked and relabelled only for us.”
Although Bessi and Audrerie “agree on almost 99% of the same wines,” she describes her taste as, “more cooler-vintage focused, while he likes bigger international wines.” The latter may include extremely rare renditions from North America, such as Bond Quella, Bryant Family Vineyard, Dalla Valle Maya’s Vineyard, Sloan Proprietary Red, and Screaming Eagle.
Bessi is also growing the selection from Austria and Germany. “Can you believe we’ve never had an off-dry Riesling here?” she posits. She is also opening up the wine programme, making good use of the attractive private dining room for 12 beyond the fireplace snug and bar counter to host Bordeaux and Napa events, as well as masterminding a larger charity dinner to benefit Australian producers. “It’s one of my favourite countries,” she says of the latter, “and I’m going in October on the James Busby trip. Being a single mum, it will be my first time outside Europe.”
Alongside wines, Bessi describes the cuisine of “super humble” chef, Nuno Mendes as “amazing – American comfy food fused with Asian spices.” The menu features oysters from the expert author on the subject, Bobby Groves, Carabinero prawns with blood orange and Jerusalem artichoke, and coal-roasted king oyster mushrooms.
By Douglas Blyde.